The McNair Fellowship:
Increasing development & mentorship opportunities for emerging leaders of color, who identify as Black/African-American or Latinx/Hispanic
Increasing development & mentorship opportunities for emerging leaders of color, who identify as Black/African-American or Latinx/Hispanic
The McNair Fellowship is named after Ronald Erwin McNair, an astronaut & physicist who is best known for being one of seven astronauts killed in the tragic Challenger space shuttle launch that occurred on January 28, 1986. Prior to his death, McNair accumulated many accolades and educational degrees including a Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1976 and four honorary doctorates.
Following McNair’s death, members of Congress provided funding for The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The program encourages low-income/first-generation college students, and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups, to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. This program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair’s life.
KIPP Chicago’s Executive Director, April Goble, was a McNair Fellow at her alma mater, Indiana University. We are inspired by the principles of the vision of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and want to replicate a similar opportunity for historically underrepresented ethnic groups at KIPP Chicago. When we look at data in education spaces, we know it is important to be intentional when hiring, retaining and developing underrepresented ethnic groups in our organization. The McNair Program increases development & mentorship opportunities for emerging leaders of color, who identify as Black/African-American or Latinx/Hispanic.
Camille is an Assistant Principal at KIPP Academy Chicago. Camille relocated back to her hometown Chicago in 2018 from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she was the Assistant Principal at KIPP North Star Academy. Prior to becoming an Assistant Principal, Camille taught 6th grade Reading and Math in Minneapolis. Her career in education began in 2011 in Huntsville AL, where she worked as a fourth grade teacher teaching all subjects. Camille is an alum of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University where she earned her Bachelors and Masters in Elementary Education. Outside of work, Camille loves to spend time with her husband, family, friends and visiting new restaurants.
“I believe that adults are responsible to find creative ways to invest in the minds of children, build character, and aid them to reach their educational potential. It is our responsibility to help children become excited about the power of knowledge”
Heather Hawkins is Chicago Native who has dedicated her career in service to communities of the south and west sides of the city. Her work in the areas of mental health case management, housing choice voucher and education have led her to embark on her 6th year at KIPP; her 3rd as Assistant Principal. Not one to rest on laurels, she is still in active pursuit of her greatest accomplishment.
“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.”
– Mary McLeod Bethune
Jeannetha O’Kennard-Smith is the Managing Director of Student Services for KIPP Chicago. Jeannetha earned a Bachelors in Biological Sciences from NIU and a Master of Arts degree in Multicategorical Special Education from GSU. Prior to joining KIPP in 2016 as a DL Case Manager, she spent 12 years working as a Case Manager, Team Lead and Special Education Teacher within Chicago Public Schools. Throughout her entire career as an Educator, her commitment has been to promote academic excellence, while cultivating the lives of minority students, throughout the inner-city. Jeannetha is a Chicago – native, who believes that her enthusiasm, efficiency, and leadership, combined with experience, allows her to inspire underserved children of color. Jeannetha knows that every child can succeed and remains excited about each opportunity given, to empower and equip others with the skills necessary to achieve greatness and overcome barriers of oppression. Jeannetha is passionate about her journey. She believes the power of change requires one to remain dedicated, focused, and driven. Outside of work, Jeannetha enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends. She also enjoys traveling, gardening, listening to music and the non-stop excitement that comes with motherhood!
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Briana Jocelyn was born and raised in the Quad Cities (located on the border of Iowa and Illinois). Briana received her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and has been teaching for 8 years. Her proudest moment in teaching took place in her most recent year, while teaching seventh grade social studies remotely. Following a lesson about the impacts of genocide on the Indigenous American population in the United States a student created a piece of artwork and texted her, thanking her for the lesson and sharing the impact the lesson had on her. Briana is a recipient of the Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award for outstanding teaching across the KIPP network. Briana’s favorite quote comes from Nelson Mandela,
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Sylvia Ibarra-Delgado was born and raised in the Gage Park neighborhood of southwest Chicago. She lived in a small town of Jerez, Zacatecas during the ages of 1 to 6, which helped establish her passion for her native tongue and the acculturation of her Mexican and American identities rather than assimilation. Through the use of a fake address she was able to attend a suburban high school, which led her to her journey at Loyola University Chicago. While at Loyola she became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. and graduated with dual degrees in psychology and business management. Sylvia then joined Teach for America as a 2011 Milwaukee corps member while she obtained her Master’s degree in bilingual education and taught 7th grade reading. In 2013 she transitioned to San Antonio to assist with the establishment of a dual language program for the KIPP network while teaching 1st and 2nd grade. In 2015 she returned home and joined the KIPP Chicago team and taught 5th and 2nd grade. In 2018, she transitioned to her current role as the Managing Director of English Language Learners, where she has developed a bilingual program across the KIPP Chicago region. Pre-pandemic Sylvia enjoyed going to international film festivals with her friends and family. Now she enjoys listening to NPR podcasts and audiobooks on the app Libby. She is currently completing a Master’s program to obtain her principal licensure in Illinois. Sylvia hopes to run the Berlin marathon in September 2021.
As I reflect on my ten years of education, I am proud of multiple decisions I have made throughout my professional career. My 18 year-old self would have never thought about moving to Milwaukee while my 22 year-old self did not plan for a move to San Antonio. I feel a sense of pride to be an educator in my city and look forward to what the next ten years in education will bring.
On a personal level, I am most proud of paying for my college study abroad trip to Argentina independently from my parents’ wishes. This was a wonderful growing experience that also helped me learn about Teach for America and changed my career path.
“…I am happy in my journey…I am love. I am pleasure, I am essence, I am an idiot, I am [damaged], I am tenacious. I am; simply I am…”
― Frida Kahlo
Antavis is a Chicago native. He attended John Hope College Prep H.S. where he lettered varsity in four sports, was a member of the national honors society, and graduated in the top 10 of his class. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Marketing and Sports Management from the University of Cincinnati. In 2006, Antavis interned at KIPP: LEAD College Prep in Gary, Indiana. In 2007, he committed to KIPP: LEAD and served as the athletic director, physical education teacher, and coached boys’ basketball. In 2011, he returned to Chicago and served as the P.E. teacher at KIPP Ascend Primary and coached KIPP Ascend Middle School girls’ basketball. Antavis earned the Illinois National Charter School (INCS) 2012 Charter Excellence Award ‘Classroom Hero.’ In 2015, he completed the KIPP School Leadership Program. From 2015-2017, he served as the 5th grade math teacher and grade level chair. Antavis completed the Relay Graduate School of Education: National Principals Academy Fellowship in 2018. Antavis in currently in his fourth year as an assistant principal at KIPP Ascend. His greatest accomplishment has been breaking the educational barrier in his family by attaining his college degree. His favorite quote is “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
Tita Herrera was born and raised in the heart of Chicago! She earned her B.A in Psychology from Carleton College where her passion for educational equity and reform led her to work in education for ~13 years. After working at Posse Chicago and the Noble Network, she joined the KIPP Chicago regional founding team in 2010 where she later transitioned into the KTC team in 2015 and now manages the College Team as the Director of College Support. Tita has always lived by her mother’s philosophy and instilled in her students that, “The one thing no one can ever take away from you is the knowledge you’ve gained because Knowledge is Power”. A fulfilling accomplishment for Tita has been coaching her students to their success and leading a talented team of 5 College Advisors that serve over 1,400 KIPP alumni. After 11 years at KIPP Chicago, Tita continues to be proud of working with incredible leaders that push for social justice change and growth in ourselves, our organization and the communities we serve.
Miguel Rodriguez is an entrepreneur, comedian, and educator. Hailing from Chicago, he began his career in education in the South Bronx. In 2016, Miguel was one of 12 recipients to be awarded the Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award. Currently, he is an assistant principal with KIPP Bloom in the Englewood neighborhood. Miguel, who has a performing arts background, is passionate about increasing arts access to students of color. Over the last 10 years, he has created two performing arts programs and has raised over $50,000 in funding. Miguel sits on the board of the youth theater program he participated in high school – Albany Park Theater Project. When he is not in school, Miguel performs and teaches comedy. He lives by the quote,
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.”
– Angela Davis
Denisha Dade was born and raised on the southside of Chicago. She attended Ohio Northern University where she studied Pharmaceutical Business. Denisha graduated ONU with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration. Later on, she graduated in 2018 with her Master’s in Business Administration. Denisha has been in the educational field for 10 years, 6 of those years at KIPP. Before she joined KIPP, she was the Assistant Dean of Discipline within the Noble Network. Currently, she is the School Operations Leader at KIPP Academy (Primary and Middle). One of her proudest moments is becoming a mother to a beautiful daughter named Sasha.
Edward is an educator and peer leader at KIPP Ascend Middle School, where he teaches 5th Grade English Language Arts and serves as the Humanities Content Chair. He is also an alumnus of KIPP Ascend, class of 2012 (’08). Edward was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. He attended Latin School of Chicago for high school. He received his bachelor’s in English at Grinnell College, where he was also the recipient of the Louis J Gonias Scholarship for academic accomplishment in English, the recipient of the Howard Peck Scholarship for leadership in the athletic department and community, as well as Dean’s List and 4-time Academic All Conference. He is also part of the NFF Hampshire Honor Society. Edward received his master’s at Relay Graduate School of Education, where he also earned Dean’s List, was his graduating class speaker, and most recently named the recipient of the Relay Chicago Alumni Award (2020) for continued excellence in Education after graduating. This is Edward’s fifth year in education. One of his proudest moments has to be during his time with KOA, when he had the opportunity to provide one-on-one intensive reading intervention to one of his sixth graders, and watched him grow 10 reading levels by the end of the year (three years of growth!). A favorite quote of Edward’s is one from a well-known poem by Dr. Maya Angelou, and is actually inscribed on a plaque commemorating Edward’s graduation from Grinnell: “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”
Steven Greer is an Assistant Principal at KIPP Ascend Primary and hails from the west side of Chicago. He began his career in education in Washington DC, while studying at Howard University. He holds a B.A in Political Science from Howard University and a M.A in Special Education from National Louis University. He moved back to Chicago and began teaching at Ascend Primary, starting as a kindergarten teacher, and then moving to 3rd grade, where he taught for 6 years. During that time, Steven moved into a grade level chair role and played a pivotal role in the successful school years of academic growth and achievement for 3rd grade. Outside of work, Steven loves sports and music.
“Once you learn to read, you will forever be free”.
– Frederick Douglas
Michallé Fain is the Founding Third and Fourth Grade – Grade Level Chair and Instructional Coach at KIPP One Primary. She is also a class of 2008 KIPP Chicago Alumna. Michallé always had a dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. After graduating from Marquette University’s College of Education in 2016, Michallé returned to the KIPP Chicago family to begin her teaching career. Michallé is serving proudly as the Regional Liaison & Innovation Chair on the KIPP Chicago Alumni Board. Michallé’s favorite quote is,
“A child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.”
― Pablo Casals
Yodit Weldu is the High School Transition Coordinator at KIPP Academy Chicago/KIPP Create College Prep. This will be her eighth year as a part of KIPP Chicago Team & Family; she spent the past seven years at KIPP Ascend Middle School in a number of roles: Assistant Principal, ELA Teacher, Director of Operations, and Office Manager. Weldu graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI) with a bachelor of science degree in interior design technology, and studied abroad in Thailand and Germany to study green design. Some of her strengths include instructional planning, operations logistics, performance management, parent communication, and conflict resolution. Working with and enriching youth and parents through positive daily interactions keeps Weldu connected while at KIPP Chicago.
“I believe that all children deserve a high-quality education that cultivates a love for learning.”
We are thrilled to spotlight two founding McNair Fellows, Antavis Spells and Yodit Weldu, who have been with KIPP for over 10 years, both making a profound impact on students, alumni, and families. We asked them these two questions: What are your aspirations in leadership and how do you see this fellowship helping you get there? This program is inspired by the success and life of Ronald McNair. In terms of your career, who is someone that inspires you?
As a leader, I aspire to transform and cultivate the minds and bodies of our students by coaching them to strengthen their mental and physical muscles. Utilizing coaching that fosters independent thinking rooted in dedication, discipline, and consistency to become the best student athlete they can be. I aspire to create a community where students and families feel heard, seen, respected, and are in a life long partnership with our school community. I aspire to lead a team that is innovative and always prepared to find solutions that will help to change the trajectory of the lives that we serve. I aspire to maintain a staff that believes in second chances, motivates people- not just students- and brings out the lion or lioness inside of everyone. I aspire to be a leader, not by position of power, but by example. I see the fellowship being a stake of support and a compass to help me navigate my way on this journey. I see this fellowship helping me locate and identify the greatest leverageable partnerships and resources that will cultivate my abilities to support students and families. In addition, develop teachers, athletic coaches, and most importantly connect with the community and other stakeholders.
The person I consider a hero, role model, and inspiration is Dr. Mahalia A. Hines. Dr. Hines was my high school principal and my current mentor. Her love for people, motivational words, belief in second chances, and unwavering faith saved me. Without Dr. Hines in my life as a living role model, encourager, and guide, I’m not 100% certain I would’ve had the dedication and discipline to maintain a growth mindset. The growth mindset is not just conducive for myself but others as well, to continue up this mountain of educational leadership. It’s because of her that I believe the relationships we have with our students, families, community, and each other can blossom into anything we desire! I was once the stereo-typical student and statistics predicted my life’s outcome. Dr. Hines coached and mentor me. It is because of her servitude that I graduated from highschool and college. She indeed made me feel that I could conquer anything. I dedicated my life to educating and empowering young people because of the impact Dr. Hines had on me. I witnessed first hand the super-power that educators possess. Education determined my outcome! It was possible, because I was taught to independently think for myself. She gave me HOPE!
What can I offer to the world? How can we make a change? I often ask myself these questions every day. As a leader, I aspire to become a better person by growing, developing my skills, taking advantage of all opportunities, and being an example. The McNair fellowship will maximize my strengths by influencing the youth through the resources provided. The program will give me the tools needed to help others and most of all, light the torch for the youth.
The first name that came to mind was George Washington Carver. A pioneer of his time, he was a brilliant and beautiful man who admired and valued life. Despite his traumatic upbringing, Mr. Carter was able to persevere, and most of all, inspire the world. Through his innovation and research, he was able to change the agricultural world. Mr. Carver was ahead of his time!